When I first started my playthrough, I was struck by how similar the game looked to Civilization; you start a game with a single unit to explore your surroundings and, just like in Civilization, the map is laid out as a beautifully detailed grid with hexagonal squares that you can move your units across. As you start the game, the map is obscured by the fog of war, and as you move across different tiles, you gradually uncover more and more areas on the map. However, unlike Civilization, you don’t pick a civilisation to play as right away. Instead, every player starts as a generic Neolithic tribe. This means that while you can uncover areas on the map, you’re not able to build cities in the first era.
The game does, however, let you set an ‘outpost’. Similar to the expansion mechanics in titles like Age of Wonders: Planetfall, an outpost allows you call dibs on a chunk of territory once you’ve discovered it. When you hit the Ancient Era, you can convert these outposts into cities, which will then effectively add the marked territory to your empire and expand your borders. Converting outposts to cities does take a number of turns and, considering outposts can be destroyed quite easily by a rival player or AI, I found this a great way to heighten the stakes when it came to empire expansion.
So, what’s the aim in the Neolithic era? Mostly, hunting animals and discovering as many wonders and landmarks as you can. While hunting gives you with extra food that in turn allows you to grow your tribe, discovering important landmarks can earn you era stars. In later eras, these stars are awarded for more traditional goals in the 4X genre: expanding your empire, having a wealthy treasury, or expanding your military.